Despite all the buzz around ancient and heirloom grains, einkorn wheat doesn't get much attention. Considered the oldest grain known in the history of agriculture, this superfood offers a variety of essential nutrients and a toasty flavor that's delicious in all kinds of baked goods. Einkorn also is the only wheat known to not have been hybridized. It may prove a little tricky to find, but keep an eye out and add einkorn to your list of must-try foods.
What is Einkorn?
Einkorn wheat once grew wild around the world, but, like many other heirloom grains, it was weeded out as farmers cultivated modern crops and easier-to-harvest varietals. Still, this ancient grain is prized for its nutrients, lower levels of gluten, and non-GMO status.
Today the plant grows mainly in Morocco, France, and Turkey, and throughout parts of what used to be the Soviet Union. Unlike most of the cereals we now know, einkorn can prosper in terrain unfriendly to other plants, which makes this superfood a real boon in harsher landscapes. The plant has tighter husks and smaller berries than modern wheat, which help it survive these conditions. Originally, einkorn stalks grew in the Tigris-Euphrates regions (parts of what we know as Turkey, Syria and Iraq) all the way back to 7500 BC.
Einkorn's cultivation began during the Neolithic Revolution, when emmer wheat became a stable crop after hybridizing with goat grass. Eventually, the resulting plant — einkorn — became less popular. How do we know? Ötzi the Iceman lived more than 5,000 years ago, and his body was well-preserved in a glacier in the Italian Alps. Einkorn was found in his stomach — evidence that humans have been cultivating and eating this grain for thousands of years.
How to Use Einkorn
Treat einkorn like any other wheat: mill it into flour for baking, or eat the berries whole after the husk is removed. Einkorn flour can be used in place of whole wheat flour in just about any dish, from pie crust to cake batter to waffles. The rich flavor of this heirloom cereal makes for a hearty, slightly nutty bread that makes wonderful sandwiches.
What Does Einkorn Taste Like?
Einkorn's flavor is similar to commercial wheat, though it imparts a deeper, nutty and toasty essence. That's why einkorn flour works so well in warm, comforting dishes like pancakes and banana bread. Whole einkorn berries are also similar to regular wheat berries, and offer a pleasing crunch when heated and popped. They can be soaked, simmered like rice, and made into a toothsome salad.
Use einkorn flour like you would use wheat flour to add extra flavor, depth, and nutrients to baked goods.
Where to Buy Einkorn
The only surefire way to get einkorn with any consistency is to purchase bags of flour or berries from Jovial Foods, the leading supplier in this ancient grain. In fact, it was the company's founder Carla Bartolucci who put einkorn wheat back on the culinary map after she sought a substitute for refined and modified wheat flour.
You can find other sources for einkorn by visiting visit your local health food market or shop online.
Einkorn is just like any flour: store in an airtight container to keep it fresh. Because it's an heirloom grain, it hasn't been specially engineered to last as long as commercial flour, so don't leave it in the cupboard for a special occasion — get cooking!
As for the berries, if they are untreated you can keep them in an airtight container or leave in the unopened bag until ready to cook. Once boiled and plumped up, store the cooked einkorn in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator, and use within a week.
Nutrition and Benefits
Not only is einkorn GMO-free, it's packed with essential nutrients like zinc, iron, potassium, riboflavin, Vitamins B6 and A, protein and fiber. Baked goods made from einkorn contain more carotenoids and lutein, two potent antioxidants.
Many kinds of wheat now exist around the world, the most common being the hybrid common, or dwarf wheat, which makes up most of the grain cultivated today. As for heirloom cereals, look for emmer, spelt, and kamut as swell.
It's been implied that heirloom grains are gluten-free, but this is not true. Einkorn does, however, lack some of the proteins found in modern wheat that trigger those with a gluten sensitivity. For many who avoid wheat for this reason, goods made with einkorn may not cause a strong reaction. Those with Celiac disease or extreme allergies to gluten should still avoid einkorn entirely